The guilt that follows hurting someone you love is a horrible and overwhelming feeling. It can inspire self-loathing, which in turn lowers your self-esteem. It’s hard put an end to these emotions. Often people who feel guilty also feel they should punish themselves with negative internal dialogues.
However, guilt and the accompanying emotions might not be very useful. Wallowing in self-hatred usually doesn’t make the person you hurt feel any better—and it’s probably not making you feel better either.
The only person who can really forgive you is you. Moving on is a difficult process but a completely possible one. Read on to find out how to start ridding yourself of guilt today.
Accept your Actions
The first step in dealing with guilt is to fully realize that you’ve hurt someone and there’s no to change that. You can’t go back in time. The next step is to avoid excuses for what you’ve done. Instead investigate the reasons behind having done it. There’s an important difference between the two. Making excuses diminishes the action and sometimes even places blame on the person you’ve hurt. But when you analyze the reasons behind your action, you work towards becoming a better person in the future.
Ask yourself: What were my needs when I hurt the person I love? Were they being met? This will help you understand the frame of mind you had at the time. Once you know this, you can work towards fulfilling those needs in a healthy way. Maybe you were in need of love, touch, a listening ear, or excitement. How can you find those things in life through positive actions?
Learn to Differentiate Healthy from Unhealthy Guilt
Guilt isn’t always a bad emotion. If it’s healthy guilt it’s a message from our mind telling us that we might have swayed from our moral compass and that it’s time to re-evaluate our actions. Healthy guilt is the catalyst to positive change. It helps us behave in a way that’s more compassionate towards others. It usually doesn’t last for extended periods of time.
However, when guilt makes us punish ourselves without helping us improve it’s unhealthy. Unhealthy guilt weighs you down and keeps you wallowing in a self-hatred. It doesn’t motivate you to change and take actions towards betterment. It can be an unproductive and useless emotion. Research shows emotions like this are physically detrimental. Stress increases your heart rate, raises your blood pressure, disrupts your digestion, and tenses your muscles.
When you are suffering from unhealthy guilt it’s important to recognize it and ask yourself: Is it doing you or others any good? Is it time to let go of it?
How to Let Go
If you have realized your guilt is unhealthy it’s time to let go of it. Not only is it detrimental to your self-esteem but also to your relationship with your loved one. They will constantly be reminded of your wrong doing and how it made them feel if you keep apologizing and beating yourself up about it. Once you apologize it’s best to take actions to become a better person and move on.
Of course this is easier said than done. Here are a few strategies to end your guilt:
- Put things into perspective. Think about all the times you’ve been good to the person you love. How were you helpful or kind to them today? If you don’t interact with them think about the ways you’re a positive part of someone else’s life. Maybe you’re a nice neighbor, a hard worker, or an attentive parent. Your wrong-doing doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person. It makes you imperfect and no one is perfect.
- Engage in positive self-talk. To move on you can repeat a positive message to yourself throughout the day. For example, “I grow more patient and understanding of others by forgiving myself” or, “I will treat myself with respect and kindness from today forward.”
- Try PERT. Created by Dr. Luskin, PERT stands for Positive Emotion Refocusing Technique. Close your eyes and take a deep breath that pushes your belly out. On your exhale, relax your belly. On your third deep breath think of a beautiful place that inspires awe such as the ocean, a majestic forest, or a waterfall. Stay in this place as you focus on your inhale and exhale. When you begin to feel more peaceful ask yourself: What I can do to help myself feel better? Listen to your answer and if it’s a healthy response put it into action. PERT only needs to last for 45 seconds. It’s a great way to interrupt your guilt and self-loathing to turn your emotions around.
- Talk to someone. It usually helps to talk to someone you trust about your emotions. Another person will offer perspective. They might also talk to you about their past experiences with guilt and how they dealt with it. It’s a good idea to talk to someone other than the person you hurt. You might choose to talk to a support group, counselor, or therapist. When you do, be careful you aren’t asking them to forgive you or validate your actions. It’s not fair to give them that responsibility.
Dealing with guilt after hurting a loved one may take a long time. The irony is that often the person you hurt gets over it way before you do. Try to keep putting things into perspective. If you take one step at a time to become a kinder and less selfish person, congratulate yourself for it. What’s done is done. But what matters is who you are today.